A sweet young family started attending our church. Soon God began to capture their hearts. Randy first came to salvation, then his wife, Patty. Shortly after that, Randy stopped in at our church one afternoon to talk with my husband. Randy was weeping uncontrollably and so broken that it was difficult at first for LeRoy to understand what he was saying. His conversion to Christ caused him to realize he needed to come clean on some sin issues in his life. He hoped giving a heartfelt confession to God (and my husband) would give him some peace.
After listening to Randy’s entire story, LeRoy gave him tender and compassionate counsel, but then leveled with him that he needed to share this with his wife, Patty, as well. After several minutes, Randy agreed, but was terrified by the thought, knowing it would devastate his wife. He asked LeRoy to come with him to talk to her.
LeRoy agreed to go with him and called me to meet them at their home so I could take care of their toddler in a separate room while they spoke privately. I didn’t know the details of the situation when I arrived but as soon as I saw Randy’s ashen face, I knew it was serious.
Randy confessed to Patty that he’d been involved in an ongoing homosexual relationship that began when he was a teenager. Although Randy loved Patty, and hated himself for his addiction to the relationship, he just couldn’t seem to let go of it. After coming to know Christ, he knew he couldn’t continue this double life any longer, but didn’t know how to get free. He poured it all out to Patty as LeRoy watched and prayed.
I was in the other room, so I wasn’t an eye-witness to her reaction, but LeRoy said it was amazing. Her face was white with shock when she initially heard Randy confess his infidelity with a homosexual lover, but after processing and silently praying, the first words out of this baby-believer’s mouth were, “Randy, I forgive you.”
Patty had a choice when receiving this devastating news: Let go of anger and grab onto grace—or—hold onto bitterness and let go of peace.
Patty’s immediate reaction, followed by a life of loving forgiveness was instructive for me. Over the next several years, I watched their marriage grow and deepen as honesty and humility defined their relationship. Patty’s reaction probably saved their marriage. Her willingness to forgive, not only impacted their lives, but as I’ve shared their story, countless other women have received encouragement to forgive their husbands as well. I’ve watched women first react in shock, then receive hope and courage to forge on saying, if she can forgive him for that, surely I can forgive my husband.
Jesus paints a graphic picture of the results of unforgiveness in his parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18. In the story, there is a servant who owed the king (representing the Heavenly Father) a debt that would take more than a lifetime to pay off. The servant begged for mercy and the gracious king forgave him the entire debt.
The forgiven (but wicked) servant then turned to a fellow slave who owed him a small amount of money and demanded immediate payment. Although the fellow slave begged for mercy and patience for time to repay the debt, rather than forgiving him and releasing him from the debt, the cruel servant (the one who’d been released from the huge debt he owed to the king) had this fellow slave thrown into a debtor’s prison (this is why he’s referred to in the story as the wicked servant).
When the king heard about his unwillingness to forgive a small amount (especially since the king had released him from his enormous debt) the king had the wicked servant thrown into prison where he was turned over to the torturers. Jesus then closes the parable with a stern warning to those who are unwilling to forgive.
The biblical standard of forgiveness seems impossible to keep . . . it is unbelievably high:
[box]“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)[/box]
[box]“Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)[/box]
Whenever I quote these verses to myself or whenever I share them with a woman who is holding onto hurt, unwilling to let go and forgive, the effect is always the same. First there is the shocking realization that God’s standard requires me to respond in forgiveness to this person who has SO wronged me with the same forgiveness Jesus has shown to me??!
Then follows the reminder of how unworthy I am to receive forgiveness from a holy God, which brings me to the uncomfortable dilemma of whether I will place myself (figuratively and ironically, of course) above God by holding onto unforgiveness—or whether I, the undeserving forgiven wicked servant, will extend the same grace and forgiveness I’ve been shown.
Going through this exercise always takes me back to the cross . . .
And there I must release what I’m holding onto . . . in order to embrace the cross . . . pick it up . . . and follow Him.
To the Death. Again.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in letting go of hurt is that: I cannot keep the biblical standard of forgiveness . . . without returning to the cross and relying on His grace.
Going to the cross and focusing on the forgiveness I’ve been shown by a sinless Savior, gives me the only perspective for understanding and offering forgiveness. Going to the cross reminds me of what really matters, so I can release the stuff that really doesn’t.
A lot of our injuries and offenses will be avoided if we let go of certain ways of thinking before the disappointment happens. The forgiveness process is so much simpler if I’ve already adopted the lifestyle of letting things go that hold potential for offense.
Is there something you’re holding onto today?
Is your injury greater than the forgiveness you’ve been given at the cross?
If you are unwilling to forgive your offender, what is Jesus’ message to you in Matthew 18:35?
This week you can listen to our story on the Revive Our Hearts radio program (or listen online by clicking on the link). It might be helpful for you and your husband to listen together.
Excerpted from “Fierce Women” copyright ©2012 by Kimberly Wagner.